Depicting the Roman army of the 3rd century AD through to the early 7th century, these little gems created quite a stir when they came out. Great sculpting, an interesting but under-represented subject, and, most of all, an unusually wide selection of poses quickly wooed the 10mm community. Of course this was some years ago, now -- and these poor Romans have been languishing in the leadpile almost since then.
Well, no longer.
ARL1- "Unarmoured standing spear"
Using state-of-the-art Photographic™ technology, I can now show you what the ambiguous unit description does not: there are five different poses in this pack, depicted, as the more astute might expect, without armour. These guys are dressed appropriately for the period, in long-sleeved tunics and "barbarian" trousers. One of the sculpts sports a beard; two others wear flat-topped "Pannonian" or "Illyrian" caps. Equipment consits of flat oval shields, stabbing or thrusting spears (hasta, for the Latin geeks), scabbarded longswords (spatha), and, on one of the figures, a beautifully-rendered "ridge" helmet. Everything conforms to the types cranked out en masse by the state arms factories of Late Antiquity. The sculptor has obviously done his homework; on the other hand, the very idea of unarmoured infantrymen in becoming increasingly discredited, largely owing to the efforts of modern archaeology and unbiased scholarship.
The action-oriented counterpart to the above pack. Six different poses, comprising three additional spearmen, two swordsmen, and a gentleman preparing to throw a we ighted dart (mattiobarbulus or plumbata). While the sculpting and detailing remains impeccable, the figure design in this pack isn't quite as nice; the poses with raised sword, spear, and dart look a bit unnatural. On the other hand, the other three are possibly the best poses in the range.
Only four poses in this pack -- an unfortunate reduction considering these should represent the bulk of the Late Roman army. Generally equipped as per their unarmoured equivalents, except (predictably) wearing armour. This latter consists of chain hauberk and helmet -- either of the ridged or spangenhelm type. Really nice figures, although three of the poses seem to be leaning slightly to the left, as seen in the photo above. Nothing a bit of filing can't fix, however.
You probably guessed this bunch was coming. The figure on the left, swinging his sword, is maybe the worst sculpt of the range; his shield grip clearly different from everyone else's, and the way he's holding it looks like this soldier's begging to be stabbed in the leg or groin. Weren't these guys supposed to form a shieldwall anyway?
There are of course many more additions to this range that I haven't reviewed here. Some, like the command groups and archers, I simply forgot to take pictures of before basing them; some, like the slingers and militia, I forgot to order in the first place. Others, most notably the cavalry, didn't even exist yet at the time. I'll say here that the archers are exquisite: comparable to the other unarmoured infantry in dress, and containing no fewer than seven different sculpts. See below for an image. The armoured command group is likewise superb, with two different musicians, two different standard bearers, and (I think) four officers. The unarmoured command isn't quite up to the same standards: there's only one each of musicians and standard bearers, and the bannerman has two right hands. I'm not sure how whomever was making the mold missed this, but it's the honest truth. I think there's also only three officer sculpts, although one of them doesn't have a shield, and so makes a fine commander of archers or slingers.
The Painted Army
We're fortunate today that medieval monks took a liking to the Notitia Dignitatum, a Late Roman document detailing the administrative and military organization of the Roman world, both east and west. Several 15th- and 16th-century copies are extant, providing remarkable insight into the Mediterranean of a thousand years before that. Of special interest to military afficcionadoes are the hundreds of shield blazons preserved in all their splendour.
The Pannoniciani seniores and Moesiaci seniores, two western units commonly brigaded together. The chi-rho shown on some of the Moesiaci shields is my own addition, although it's commonly believed to have been employed since the reign of Constantine I by Christian soldiers.
While not every regiment listed is given a corresponding shield in the Notitia, there are enough that it's possible to paint up a variety of units from any given field army of time without resorting to making any up. The time frame is fairly specific, however: the information on the Eastern army is generally dated to the 390s, and the Western to around 420. This is significant since both armies were in a state of rebuilding during these years, containing a mixture of older regiments (including the decendents of several legions that had been around for hundreds of years) and newly formed units. The East had lost a huge army (and an emperor) to a Gothic force at Hadrianople in 378, while the West had in turn suffered a series of invasions and territorial losses at the hands of Goths, Alans, Suevi, Vandals, Huns, and Sciri, as well as the usurpation, for a time, of several provinces by a would-be emperor. Rome had been sacked, and the veteran field armies upon which the Empire depended had disintegrated.
The Sagittarii Lecti. Archers were usually designated Sagittarii, but as many names lost their original significance over time, we have no way of knowing whether or not this unit would actually have comprised bowmen.
I opted to paint a Western army, for the odd reason that I prefer the East. Strange, I know, but my painting skills improve continuously, and I had originally envisioned painting up forces for both states, so I wanted the Eastern troops to look better. At my current rate of painting, I should have both forces complete by about 2080, but, rest assured, I'll do my best to post pictures here when they're all done!
The Lanciarii Gallicani Honoriani. Lanciarii are believed to have been elite light infantrymen, deriving their name from the light javelins they wielded (lancea). If this is true, these troops may have been among the few regulars to go to battle without body armour. Of course I ignored all this, and simply assembled a unit from some of the more unwieldy poses I had left over.
The Celtae Seniores. With the Western army in dire straits, things were shuffled up quite a bit; garrison units were promoted to field army status, and others were created from scratch. Although the Celtae were one of the surviving elite Palatine regiments, I decided to show the stresses of the times by painting this and several of my other units as a mixture of armoured and unarmoured soldiers. Normally this unit would be paired with the Petulantes, but I inadvertantly painted up the Brachiati instead. Eventually both these units will recieve their proper pairings, but for now they'll just have to live with each other. (Brachiati not shown.)
Brigade of Herculiani and Ioviani-- at least I got this pairing right. As the senior infantry regiments of the West, I gave these units coloured tunics and full armour. The Herculiani represent a significantly earlier attempt to paint this army up, however, and the unit isn't quite up to the same standards as some of the others.
I've vowed to paint (or otherwise dispose of) more of the ol' leadpile before shelling out money for new figures. I've even set myself a quota to make sure I stick to that vow. The day I reach that quota, however, these figures are the first I'm going to buy more of-- imagine some cavalry, and barbarian foederati, oh yes, and those beautiful casualty markers... and there's even a pack containing Arthur, Merlin and Mordred of Arthurian fame.
Suffice to say I'm impressed by these figures. The sculptor (Clibinarium) and producers (Pendraken) are both to be commended. This is premium-quality stuff, the kind you usually pay two or three times as much for. Even better, Goths and Franks are rumoured to be coming at some point to complement the range (mind you, said rumours have been circulating for years); I've also got some of the contemporary Sassanian Persians in the leadpile, which I hope to paint and review here in due time.
Of course, if blogging keeps taking as long as it is right now, that due time could be a long time coming!